Thursday, January 6, 2011; A12
The British Medical Journal on Wednesday accused a disgraced British doctor of committing an "elaborate fraud" by faking data in his studies linking vaccines with autism.
Andrew Wakefield's work convinced thousands of parents that vaccines are dangerous. Such fears have not only caused parents to skip vaccinations for their children, which critics say has led to ongoing outbreaks of measles and mumps, but have forced costly reformulations of many vaccines.
The journal's editors said it was not possible that Wakefield made a mistake and that he must have faked the data. They supported their position with a series of articles by a journalist who used medical records and interviews to show that Wakefield falsified data.
For instance, the reports found that Wakefield, who included data from only 12 children in his report, studied at least 13 and that several showed symptoms of autism before they were vaccinated.
"Who perpetrated this fraud? There is no doubt that it was Wakefield," journal editor Fiona Godlee, deputy editor Jane Smith and associate editor Harvey Marcovitch wrote in a commentary.
They said the work "was based not on bad science but on a deliberate fraud."
Wakefield denied the allegations. "The study is not a lie. The findings that we have made have been replicated in five countries around the world," he told CNN on Wednesday.
In 1998, the Lancet medical journal, a rival to the British Medical Journal, published a study by Wakefield and colleagues linking the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to autism.
The other researchers withdrew their names from the study, and the Lancet formally retracted the paper in February.
A disciplinary panel of Britain's General Medical Council said in February that Wakefield had presented his research in an "irresponsible and dishonest" way and had brought the medical profession into disrepute.
No study has shown any clear link between vaccines and autism.